“There is a quiet confidence with which the Indian captain carries himself. And his counterpart deliberately underplays the historic advantage”
Virat Kohli will not show concern. And Joe Root will shun the mantle of favourites even if the venue is an established England stronghold.
But, there is an ominous feeling that things will be tough for the Indians in the Test.
“My son has a ticket for Saturday, but I doubt it will go that far,” informs the Pakistani taxi-driver as he drives me to the ground from the Birmingham Main Street Station. “Matches here hardly last 3-4 days.”
The English stronghold. Edgbaston. The incredible track record of England out here is common knowledge across the cricketing landscape, among the media-men as well as the cabbies who ferry them.
There have been a couple of showers in the past two days, breaking the ridiculously long dry spell in the country. That may change every equation that had been concocted in the forecasts so far in the tour. The blistering weather that had so long been giving Indians a feeling of being at home is no more. And it is because of the rain in the Midlands that the ball jags about over here, making it a veritable happy hunting ground for the likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Yet, the taxi driver offers a tiny glimpse of hope. He points at the grass along the sidewalks and the roundabouts. “Brown. They all look burnt. The rainfall is already a thing of the past.”
However, the tinge of doubt lingers. There is a reason why England has a 9-1 record here since 2002.
In the elevator, a fellow journalist from the English media volunteer:s “I would say four days, not three.” After a couple of seconds he adds, “But I will not take any punt about which way it will go. All I can commit to is four days.”
I remind him that the Indians have played 6 times in this ground, losing 5 and drawing 1.
He replies poker-faced that the current England side is not really the best side in the world. But that seems merely the ubiquitous self-effacing English character.
In the pre-match press conference, both the captains chose to play down being the favourite and the underdog, preferring to mouth the regular line about the importance of doing the job on its day. Both seemed to be treating the series opener as just another Test match, an important encounter but nothing to go unnecessarily overboard about.
But, in general consciousness, there lingers the feeling among most that there is little chance of the Test going full distance.
So, why this absolute certainty that the Test will end well ahead of schedule?
Let us see what has happened in the Edgbaston Tests in this decade.
- Pakistan bowled out for 72 in 39.3 overs. The match is over early on the fourth morning.
- India humiliated. The match lasts well into the fourth afternoon only because England took their time to bat over two days while compiling 710 for 7.
The Test against West Indies in 2012 was rained off.
- Australia skittled for 136. Anderson with 6 for 47. The match is over by the second session on the third day.
- Finally, a Test that goes the distance. Pakistan bat second, and manage a 103-run lead. In spite of that, they manage to lose the Test by 141 runs.
- West Indies struggle to 168 and 137. The match does not last 30 overs into the third day.
The considered opinion of the press, and the gut feel of the public … both seem to be backed by data. English bowlers are not only difficult to face here, their batsmen seem to be a resilient lot when they walk onto the Edgbaston pitch as well.
The woes of India here have already been documented. 5 defeats and one draw. If we look closer, we find that they did manage 390 against a confused and demoralised England of 1986, in that solitary Test that they managed to end with honours shared in this venue. They have never passed 300 in the other 11 innings, their scores hovering between 92 and 297.
While England, in the 18 completed innings played on the ground this century, have passed 400 seven times, 500 five times and 700 once. Only twice have they failed to reach 200, and on both the occasions they had been up against the Australians with Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee featuring in both, and Glenn McGrath in one.
The England team does become a rather formidable opposition at this venue.
There is a quiet confidence with which the Indian captain carries himself. And his counterpart deliberately underplays the historic advantage.
But the reality is that the odds are stacked against the Indians as the two teams take the field tomorrow.